The final stage of the Tour, as we know, is fifty-percent ceremony and fifty-percent unofficial sprinters World Championship. Champagne is quaffed, backs are slapped, and then laps are raced.
Some say it’s a relic. That the principle of not attacking the Yellow Jersey on the final day is an anachronism. The laps around Paris nothing more than a jumped-up Crit. I disagree.
The final, formulaic Parisian set-piece is as crucial to the identity of the Tour as Alpine climbs, fields of sunflowers, and Christian Prudhomme waving a flag through the roof of a Skoda.
And, as cities go, is there anywhere as beautiful as Paris on an early summer evening?
Low rise, sunlight slanting, catching the imagery of La Republique in it’s glory. A city built for Instagram. A European jewel. Not the vulgarity of London’s gherkin or the concrete brutality of Berlin but a city of beauty for a population of pleasure seekers.
Low slung camera shots catch elbows rattling across cobbles, escapees riding the gutters, and eight laps of the Arc de Triomphe.
A Tour which didn’t finish like this would be like a John Lee Hooker tune, in the key of E, ending on a G. Dissonant. Dissatisfying. Unresolved. Don’t let’s spoil it by attacking Yellow. Let Paris, and the race, have it’s moment, and then we’ll round things off with an Alpha male gallop down the Champs for bragging rights.
Which we did.
Caleb Ewan proving himself not just the Alpha in Paris but of the race. In an era where sprint dominance is hard to come by he’s bagged three stages in this race. A stuttering start has given way to clinical finishing.
He’s perfected a thing; of waiting, and watching, and not worrying too much about your lead-out train, before launching once, decisively, from a long way back. This is now how he wins. His thing has always been that he’s tiny and leans forward so far in sprint that his bottom lip rests atop his stem.
Now he’s got two things.
Today, on the Champs Elysees, he did both his things to sweep wide right and arc around the competition to nick it on the line from Groenewegen. He might be tiny, with a face like a cheeky chappie, but Ewan is now the boss.
As for the Yellow Jersey, it seems Colombian Egan Bernal must’ve sent an open invite to his country, such were the swathes of yellow football jerseys cheering him on. Post stage the press stalked him as he sought out friends and family for tearful cuddles, kisses, and lots of mutual Catholic crossing.
Bernal, in many ways, broke France’s heart in this race; the home nation had dared to dream through Pinot, and Alaphilippe, and been dashed. Alaphilippe, despite the neutralised stage nineteen, probably fairly beaten. Pinot’s injury, though, left a mildly unsatisfying taste.
Not Bernal’s fault. He did what he had to. He dispatched teammate and former winner Geraint Thomas and never gave the likes of Kruijswijk, Buchmann, and the rest, a sniff.
It’s easy to imaginer Bernal winning several Tours de France from here, but who knows. A lot can happen. He’ll have a target on his back.
Not today, though.
Stage 21 is for ceremony. The wax stamp on the grand parchment of pro cycling.
WHAT. A. RACE!
(Top image via pixabay.com)